At Oregon State's homecoming game vs. Utah last weekend, the crowd got a reason to cheer.
Alijah Barrera, 11, and his family watched the game from the sideline for a while soaking in the experience. A clearly happy Alijah was hanging with Benny the Beaver, enjoying the atmosphere, and supporting the Beavers.
Then, Alijah and Benny walked out onto the field during a second quarter timeout, where Alijah received the largest ovation of the night. It only grew louder as the PA announcer went into greater detail about Alijah's journey.
Alijah was born with Hypoplastic left heart syndrome and needed surgery within a few months of being born. Since then, he has had multiple surgeries and the next step will be a heart transplant. There is currently no timetable for his life expectancy. But now eleven years old, he loves sports, pizza, video games, and, of course, the Beavers. He even hopes to attend Oregon State one day.
Due to his journey, Alijah was offered a rare and unique experience with the Oregon State Football team through the Unitus Community Credit Union Dream Come True Program.
The program is a collective effort between Unitus Community Credit Union, Beaver Sports Properties and Oregon State and was created as an outreach to children with illness. The program is centered around Oregon State Football games but is also expanding to Men's and Women's Basketball in 2020.
The Unitus Community Credit Union Dream Come True Program selects six kids each football season who get a unique experience that includes getting to meet the team and coaches, awesome seats in the luxury club area, sideline passes, autographs, a jersey, and on-field recognition.
Alijah and his family were invited to mingle with the team the night before the game at their hotel. The next day, they were treated to a multitude of experiences including meeting Coach Smith and walking with him to lead the Football team to the locker room.
Alijah and his family thoroughly enjoyed each step of the process and were extremely grateful the university hosted them. His stepmom, Joann Garza, reflected on the experience:
"[It's] awesome to watch him have so much fun. When he was younger we weren't sure he would still be here to experience all this and just as he gets older, this is one of those things we cherish more and more because we don't know how many more experiences we will have."
Additionally, Alijah reflected on the day:
"It was really fun. I was happy. I was excited and I had a really good time."
His stepmom later added:
"The Dream Come True [program] has made one of his dreams come true."
Enjoy the video above as we caught up with Alijah to document his experience with the Beavs!
Beyond the Game: A 'dream come true' experience for Oregon State fan Alijah originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest